Country context

Country curator, Vivien Thompson, Director, Moree Plains GalleryCountry curator

Country curator, Vivien Thompson, Director, Moree Plains Gallery with Heather Anjolu Umbagai’s, Mirrirri, Red Winged Parrot, 2002, Moree Plains Gallery Collection.

Meet Vivien Thompson, aka Country Curator, the enthusiastic new Director of Moree Plains Gallery. Vivien hails from Brisbane and cut her teeth on roles at the National Gallery of Victoria and University of Queensland Art Museum before following her career and heart west. She’ll be bringing you updates over the coming months about country culture and the treasures contained within the Moree Plains Gallery collection, so here’s a taste of what’s to come.


Moving from the city to a country town can feel a bit like emigrating.

Almost everything feels foreign – the weather, the lack of traffic, the prolific insect population, and the dawning realisation that while you don’t know anyone in town, everyone knows you.

As an outsider it’s easy to be daunted by the endless list of names and the “who’s-related-to-who” that follows most introductions. Believe me, I know. I’ve just made the move from Brisbane to country NSW, stopping for a stint in Tamworth to test the waters, before moving to my new home of Moree. And yes, despite the initial strangeness of it, I now call it Home.

This realisation came to me when I introduced some visiting friends to the locals and dutifully recited their life stories (for context, you know), including place of birth and current location. Not something widely done in the city so I’m not as practiced at summarising peoples’ lives as the country ladies – perhaps mentioning their places of work would have sufficed – but it made me see that context is vital to building understanding.

To use a metaphor from my profession, the “who’s-related-to-who” story is similar to a label next to a painting: it provides a framework (no pun intended) through which we begin to understand something of the work we’re looking at, why it’s in the gallery and depending on how well the label is doing its job, a ‘wow’ moment about the significance of the piece. Where once I might have stared blankly, fighting information overload in this merry-go-round of social introductions, I now listen intently to the background and try to connect the dots to find common ground with my new acquaintance. In other words, I always read the labels.

Out here, the bush telegraph is a marketing strategy in its own right.

As Director of the Moree Plains Gallery, I work with a wide variety of people and now see these social connections as a vital part my professional life and critical to the Gallery’s day to day operation. While the Gallery certainly relies on local newspapers, tourist information centres and social media for audience development, none of those can compete with the audience reached by word of mouth. Out here, the bush telegraph is a marketing strategy in its own right.

If you are moving to a country town or simply visiting for a few days, I recommend making the most of this priceless resource. While it’s undoubtedly useful to visit the information centre, don’t overlook a chat with the motel receptionist, the local shop keepers, baristas and publicans. Ask and you shall receive insights into the best picnic spots, picturesque bush walks, tips for enlightening cultural experiences, and if you’re lucky, they might even tell you about the best takeaway in town. As well as a tangle of social connections, small communities across Australia share a deep-seated pride in their towns and are itching to show them off.

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